Southend-on-Sea: a planning consultant’s view

Plainview Planning regularly provide planning consultancy services for the wider Southend-on-Sea area including Rochford, and Castle Point.

In this role we have noticed the long-term development potential of this area which is fuelled by an active local market, proximity to London, the expansion of London Southend Airport and a number of completed projects such as road and public realm enhancements and the completion of the Southend Swimming and Diving Centre.

The future of the town is certainly bright and there looks to be significant scope for further development. The following paragraphs investigate the processes and issues affecting development control and strategic planning in this area and provide an insight into the scope for further development over the coming years.

Development Control

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has been identified by the Government as one the top performing councils in terms of the speed at which major planning decision are made. With 84.9% of major decisions being made in 13 weeks, Southend-on-Sea sits in 15th position of all local planning authorities. This is very positive for those applicants submitting planning applications in this area as at least there is some certainty that the planning process will not be drawn out and decisions could be made within a reasonable timeframe. The statistics for Rochford District and Castle Point are not as positive as only 52% of major decisions in Rochford and 50% in Caste Point are determined within 13 weeks.

Whilst Southend-on-Sea has been successful in issuing decisions in a speedy manner, its success rate at planning appeal has been mixed, putting questions marks over the quality of decision making. In 2012/13 a total 41 appeals were made against the Council’s planning decision, but the Council was only able to successfully defend 23 of them. Castle Point also has a poor record at appeal, with only 50% of decisions appealed being successfully defended. Rochford fared better as it was able to successfully defend 73% of the appeal decisions. This would suggest that if a scheme is refused then there is a chance at appeal.

Strategic Planning

The Core Strategy for Southend-on-Sea was adopted in 2007 and sets out the provision for 6,500 net additional dwellings between 2001 and 2021. This figure corresponds to the housing requirement set out in the now revoked East of England Plan and predates the NPPF, which requires all local authorities to plan for the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area.

This planned level is significantly below the established objectively assessed need for Southend-on-Sea. The ‘Greater Essex Demographic Forecasts’, published in 2013, identifies a need to deliver 943 dwellings in Southend-on-Sea per annum, whilst the Thames Gateway South Essex SHMA, also published in 2013, states that the annual objectively assessed housing need requirement for Southend-on-Sea stands at 690 dwellings. The current planned level of housing is just 47% of the objectively assessed need in the SHMA and 34% of the objectively assessed need in the ‘Greater Essex Demographic Forecasts’.

The Council will be undertaking a Core Strategy Interim Review in November 2014 with the aim of having this development plan update adopted by the end of 2015. This appears to be a very optimistic timescale especially given the emergence of the latest evidence base that demonstrates that the current adopted housing provision is woefully short of the objectively assessed need. A development plan timescale of 2 to 4 years would normally be expected in this situation.

This need for housing is likely to give the Council a strategic dilemma. The boundaries are drawn tight against the urban area with the only greenfield locations on the edge being Green Belt. Under the provisions of the ‘Duty to Cooperate’, it would not be unreasonable for the Council to explore the distribution of housing beyond its boundaries within the neighbouring local authority areas of Rochford and Castle Point. Otherwise the Council would need to put in place a policy to intensify an already dense urban area.

The difference between the existing planned supply of housing and the objectively assessed need for housing will have a significant bearing on the Council’s interpretation of the 5-year land supply. The National Planning Practice Guidance is clear that councils should only use their housing provision figures in their adopted development plans if these plans are up to date and based on a current objective assessment of housing need. This is not the case in Southend-on-Sea. The Council were able to demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply at 31st March 2012 based on the planned supply, but the latest need figures indicate that the Council’s supply is short of meeting their housing needs.

In contrast to Southend-on-Sea, Rochford District Council has a Core Strategy that was adopted in 2011. The Inspector’s Report highlighted the need for an early review of the Core Strategy to take account of the requirements of the NPPF and Localism Bill. Rochford District Council is committed to undertaking a call for sites consultation in early 2014 to inform the Core Strategy Review process. This will provide an opportunity for landowners and developers to submit land for consideration as potential site allocations.

Castle Point is currently consulting on its draft new local plan. Comments are due by the 21st March 2014. This document seeks to deliver 200 homes per annum between 2011 and 2031. This falls short of the objectively assessed need identified in the Thames Gateway South Essex SHMA, which states that the need is for 320 dwellings per annum or the ‘Greater Essex Demographic Forecasts’ which state that the need is for 341 dwellings per annum. This proposed housing shortfall will place pressure on Rochford and Southend-on-Sea to increase their requirements to meet the sub-regional need when they review their development plan documents.

For those that have suitable and available land in Southend-on-Sea, Rochford District or Castle Point, it is advisable to soon put land forward for consideration as a potential development site. It looks like there will be greater opportunities for development that may not have been available in the past.

If you seek advice from a planning consultant in the Southend-on-Sea, Rochford or Castle Point area, please contact us at